Friday, June 29, 2007

7pm, Brick Theater: BE THERE!!!


the Stolen Chair Theatre Companye

will perform

a Comedie


3 Partes

Your browser may not support display of this image.

wherein a certain Paynter

fuffers a

mofte Horrid and Atrocious


and other similarly Hilariouf Antickes


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Messymaking on the 6th Floor: Kinderspiel's staged reading at the Ohio

As I've written in earlier manifesti, Stolen Chair is a laboratory theatre and, as such, we often try to use the metaphor of a pharmaceutical lab (as they often both have non-profit and commercial components) to articulate our relationship to the ideas of process and product. In such a lab, one works out ones experimental drug as fully as one can before subjecting poor unsuspecting humans to the nasty side effects. With a theatre's lab reading, however, a script/production concept is tested out in front of an audience (hopefully of colleagues and intimates) long before it's fit for human consumption. Sure you can learn a lot from testing your drug/play on humans while it's still really rough around the edges, but is it a good idea?

In the past, Stolen Chair has had a very rickety relationship with the notion of a reading. The very first public reading we had (Virtuosa in late 2004) was 2 years into our company history and, strangely enough, about 6 months after we had produced the play itself. Not exactly the traditional path of play development.

Since becoming resident artists at Horse Trade, lab readings (of the chair and music stand variety) have been par for the course. But because these plays have been written specifically for an ensemble of actors, scripted on their bodies, and already tested out in rehearsal, I can't say that these readings have been extraordinarily enlightening for Emily, Kiran, or me; primarily they've served to bring our designers, board members, and co-producers into the process.

When we submitted Kinderspiel to the 6th Floor Series, we literally had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. Not only was the production just a microscopic zygote of a conceit at the time we applied, but we had never even had a chance to see another company tackle the 6th Floor format as many of us work on Monday nights.

We entered the space at 5pm on Saturday night with a box full of props and roughly 20 pages of text, neither of which the cast had ever seen before as most of our R&D on this project has centered around developing character, exploring the Weimar setting, and experimenting with the notion of child's play. All we knew was that we had 10 hours to create some forum in which we could, as a creative team, actually make discoveries about this project rather than, as we had in the past, simply use the reading as an opportunity to clue our collaborators in.

So, the traditional chair & music stand format wasn't going to work for us as one of the most importants things we needed to learn was how an audience would respond to the play's kinderspieling moments, the indulgent expanses of child's play that the production's entire conceit rests on (and, incidentally, the carry-over from the very first exercise we did after warm-up in our Kinderspiel retreat in February).

We began trying to roughly stage the entire play, to do a sort of first pass and establish a few marks to hit in each scene. Dee-zas-ter. It's one thing if you're doing pychological realism and can create enough solid ground just by scoring when people enter, when they exit, when they stand, and when they sit, but to do the physicality of a Stolen Chair production half-way would just make us all look bad (and, for what it's worth, also made the text's meaning less discernible). Like oh so many rehearsals for this challenging project, it was only in the last 45 minutes of Saturday's rehearsal that we began to hit upon a way to make this work.

We came in on Sunday with a clearer plan for action: Emily and I selected a list of about 2 dozen stage directions (roughly 1/4 of which were kinderspieling episodes) that we could actually direct on stage, as it were. We intentionally picked textless moments to stage so the actors could leave their scripts at music stands, fully commit to the staging, and then return. In order for the actors to have the opportunity to fully invest in their characters physicalities, we ditched the chairs and had 4 of the 5 characters standing. When we were done it certainly didn't look like any reading I'd ever been to.

Roughly 15 people showed up for Monday's reading, almost half of which were newcomers to Stolen Chair's work and had heard about it through Soho Think Tank's emails and the listing in the Onion. The 20 pages of text ran over an hour in performance and we made a big ol' mess on stage (forcing us, with great relish, to realize that our set will likely be destroyed by play's end each night). Though it was by no means ready for the masses, I was really proud with how much spaghetti we were able to throw against the wall after only 10 hours of rehearsal, and, based on the feedback we received afterwards, it seems as though some of it actually stuck :)...People really responded to the way in which we used the conceit of child's play and fairy tale-ish prose to approach some rather dark material (to paraphrase a comment from Vanessa Sparling, the series' curator: "Sexualizing children is disturbing; sexualizing adults who are playing like children,is very disturbing!"), to the questions the play poses about rationalizing art, about class, and about mainstreaming the marginal, and to the gusto and commitment with which actors involved in this project must throw themselves (Layna smashed not one, but two props in the heat of the action; to be fair she broke one of the props on the other so it was kind of a twofer).

We also learned a lot about what didn't stick. We obviously still need to develop the plot and the play's emotional arc more clearly. The balance between monologue and action needs to be tinkered with and we're likely going to alter the conceit of the text, as well, losing the Germanic syllables while keeping the German grammar.

If you happened to catch the reading and have more feedback you'd like to offer, comment away.

And now we get to go switch gears again and focus on the upcoming Commedia dell'Artemisia performance at the Brick's Pretentious Festival on Friday. Have you bought your tickets yet?

Monday, June 25, 2007 review of Commedia dell'Artemisia

"Kiran Rikhye's script is clever...witty...and gives the audience rich food for thought. Cameron J. Oro has an amazingly commanding voice and precisely the light quality of movement needed for such demanding work. David a true virtuoso... The company is clearly on the right path."

Read more of Ishah Janssen-Faith's review here.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Busy week for the Chairs!

[Begin plugging in 5...4...3...and...go!]

Just a reminder that in just a few days (Monday, June 25th, 7pm) we'll be previewing our newest collective creation, Kinderspiel, in a (free!) staged reading at the Ohio Theatre as part of Soho Think Tank's 6th Floor Series.

Here's the blurb:

Set in the demimonde of
Weimar Berlin, one cabaret offers access to the ultimate taboo: watching adults play as children. Stolen Chair presents the world's greatest children's story, told exclusively for an adult audience. After all, why should childhood be wasted on the young?

Please come and help shape this bizarre new creation while it's still in its infancy.

And, if for some reason you're unable to attend our Kinderspiel reading, you can make sure to get your June Stolen Chair-fix at our 2nd and last performance of Commedia dell'Artemisia at the Pretentious Festival (Friday, June 29th, 7pm). You can buy your tickets here.

Friday, June 15, 2007

"Jon Stancato is f***in funny" least according to the venerable Mssr. Leonard Jacobs. Thanks, Leonard! It's been a blast doing Stolen Chair's PR for the Pretentious Festival as it has let me play-act with a publicity persona, as evidenced by my uber-pretentious interviews here and here. It's easy to forget (for some of us, at least) that publicity is performance and those among us who do it best are those who have chosen a clear character, not just for their companies, but for themselves. As the co-artistic director of the SCTC, I must confess I'm often guilty of making up words (it's true; my most frequent sin: turning intransitive verbs into transitive ones like "we evolved the idea"), mixing metaphors, and struggling to pitch to too many audiences at the same time. As an uber-pretentious auteur...jamais! I'm more than a little sad that I just have 2 more weeks to be pretentious...what's next? Neurotic introverted genuis? Bombastic vaguely abusive guru? Cool detached intellectual? You be the judge: comment below! :)

(Now, for what it's worth, I'm sure I would have had a much harder time with both of these interviews if they were conducted face-to-face or--god forbid--on the phone; as Kiran says, "We don't talk good." )

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Wallowing in Pretension

Our partners-in-Pretentiousness over at the Brick have just posted an exceedingly erudite interview with yours truly on their blog.

Here's a sample:
The late Roland Barthes once wrote "For the theatre one needs long arms; it is better to have them too long than too short. An artiste with shortarms can never, never make a fine gesture." Explicate.

Too many artistes take the current artistic climate at face value, somehow naturalizing the stylistic idiosyncrasies that define it. These short-armed simpletons somehow believe that naturalism is actually natural and that realism is real. Stolen Chair uses its long arms (collectively, our company's arms span approximately 60 feet) to reach deep into the past and around the world to remind ourselves that style is always a choice.
Read more here...

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Swarthmorean Sojourn (w/slideshow!!!)

The show always goes on, doesn't it? After what was one of the most difficult tech weeks Stolen Chair ever had, we somehow managed to pull off last weekend's gig performing Commedia dell'Artemisia at Swarthmore College's Alumni Weekend. In the week leading up to our departure, David and I probably slept a combined total of 6 hours, staying up far too late to build the set in my apartment (my neighbors must looove me!). And if it wasn't for the kindness of a Rosebrand associate named Marco, the two hours we spent in traffic just blocks from the Holland Tunnel might have prevented us from picking up the backdrops that were central to the design. But we made it to Swarthmore, PA with the set and the cast in about as many pieces as they were supposed to be.

The weekend was Kiran and my 5th reunion and Stolen Chair's 5th anniversary all wrapped up together. Our directing mentor, Allen Kuharski, arranged the event as an opportunity for us to perform at the school that has been so generous in its support of the company for the past 5 years. It was also the show's "out-of-town trial," an opportunity to put it up in front of a large audience before bringing it to the Pretentious Festival this weekend (have you bought your tickets yet?!). We had great turnout from class years '42 through '02 and brilliant Swarthmorean feedback from the audience; the performance simultaneously whet my appetite for the upcoming Pretentious shows and began the countdown towards the inevitable post-pardum depression that will set in when this fabulous show goes, as James Comtois says, to that Great Production in the Sky. Luckily, even before Commedia closes on the 29th, we'll be kickstarting Kinderspiel in earnest at a June 25th reading for Soho Think Tank's 6th Floor Series.

Stressful though it might be to spend every waking moment with the same group of people, all of us dealing with pre-show jitters and sleep deprivation in our own ways, I was really excited to live and breathe theatre and only theatre for 48 hours straight. No day jobs. No cell-phone signal (at least for me...damn T-mobile!). Just Commedia dell'Artemisia. Again and again and again. The weekend had me lusting after the possibility of a future college tour circuit. (Any colleges out there want to book Commedia? Cross-lists with both Art History and Gender Studies...any takers? Email me if you want to chat about it...)

I'll let the 31 pictures below speak the remaining 31,000 words I had originally intended for this posting. Some on stage, some backstage, some far off stage on Swarthmore's lovely campus. Enjoy!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Commedia dell'Artemisia Interview #3: Christopher Bayes

Ask any of the country's best clowns how they learned to do what they do and they'll likely answer: Christopher Bayes, a veritable household name in the physical comedy world. He has been a company member at Theatre de la Jeune Lune and the Guthrie, been a faculty member at Julliard, Yale, and Tisch, and has staged work at nearly every theatre in the city.

Here is Christopher's take on Commedia, Moliere, and more:

How do you define Commedia dell'Arte?

Commedia is the art of the virtuosic actor. It is a celebration of the art of the actor as well as a celebration of the theatrical form itself. It is the on-going playful tragedy of the underdog trying to "stick it to the man".

What do you think is the most common misconception of Commedia?
That it is dated. It is a living form that continues to evolve as the rich get richer and the poor do all of the work to help them do so.

Why do you think Commedia dell'Arte is an important training for contemporary actors?
It encourages "physical psychology" and playful abandon. It teaches actors to think with their bodies and appetites. It removes the possibility of the "polite or appropriate" body. It is deeply vulgar and violent. It kills realism or naturalism by encouraging the actor to play in grand scale with truth, fun and poetry. You can't play commedia unless you can listen with your body.

Do you have a favorite Commedia character to play?
Pantalone. Why? He is such a skeevy, tragic bastard.

How does your background in Commedia influence your directorial choices when you work on a Moliere play?
Moliere trained with a commedia company and shared a theater with one. He was deeply inspired by the Lazzi and the lengths that they might be pushed. He brought his own sense of poetry to a comic/tragic world but kept the root of the characters in the commedia. The misconception is that Moliere is polite. So…I try to uncover what inspired him so that I
might be inspired as well. More hitting!

While Commedia-inspired groups like the Mime Troupe have been around for decades and while some elements of Commedia-esque satire have been absorbed by the sketch comedy world of SNL and such, do you think that we'll ever see a traditional masked travelling Commedia troupe dealing with contemporary material?
No one can afford to have a company anymore. The producing structure has killed the company system. And television has seduced the artists. How long can you pass the hat?( God I' so cynical.)….. Sure. god bless'em! How can I help?

What can Commedia and its legacy teach us about creating contemporary satire?
Look at the Simpsons. It's commedia.

As the soon-to-be-head of the Physical Acting program at Yale Drama, can you give us a sneak peek at the syllabus?
More squirrelly fun.

Anything you'd like to plug?
Yes, but it would be impolite and vulgar to actually write it down.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The new news (June 5th, 2007)

The latest newsletter just went out today. Read it here.

And for Jon's sake (why should Pete get all the love?), please sign up on our e-blast list.



Saturday, June 02, 2007

Commedia dell'Artemisia Interview #2: Verse Playwright Kirk Wood Bromley

I'd like to introduce you all to a man who surely needs no introduction if you have been a working indie theatre artist in NYC for the past decade or so: verse playwright Kirk Wood Bromley. As Artistic Director and founder of Inverse Theater, Kirk has written and self-produced 8 verse plays and 2 musicals, one of which, Want's Unwisht Work is published in Playing with Canons alongside Stolen Chair's The Man Who Laughs. His awards and accolades are far too many to mention, but you should get to know this playwright's work as soon as you possibly can. I'll give you two options: either a) go to his website and download one of his e-texts or b) see the remount of No More Pretending that kicks off this years Ice Factory Festival at the Soho Think Tank.

And now, the questions...

1. When did you start writing in verse? Are there any prose plays hiding in a box under your bed?

I started writing in verse when I discovered that the rhythms in my head had to come out or I’d eat my fingers off (a habit only slightly abated by such release), somewhere around 19 years old. But my plays are only half in verse, so I have tons of prose lying around. Too much, in fact.

2. What do you find the greatest challenges and delights of the playwriting constraints you've given yourself?

The greatest challenge is the greatest delight – doing it well.

3. While Inverse's website is quite compelling in its elucidation of your mission, why do you feel it's important to create new verse work now?

I don’t really think it’s important for others to create new verse work. n fact, I generally can’t stand what’s come to be called a “verse play,” which is mostly some run-off of Seneca or Yeats. I think it’s important for me to create new verse work now because if I don’t do it I get incredibly sad.

4. How did you find the transition from writing a verse play to a verse musical?

I found no difference between writing a verse play and a verse musical, save that certain passages are meant to be sung, so I pop into “lyric” mode, which is more structurally diverse than the normal iambic pentameter in which (for some reason) I continue to slog.

5. Have you found more playwrights tackling verse in the years since you emerged? If so, how do you feel about the trend?

I’m not really sure. Some people have said this is the case, but I can’t say. And to be honest, I don’t feel anything about the trend, not only cuz I’m not sure there is one, but cuz I think people should write what they want and so be it.

6. NO MORE PRETENDING received rave reviews in its last incarnation. How has it changed from the version you presented earlier this year?

It is completely different, mostly because the beginning, middle, and end are completely different. Mobad still rants and rants, but the reason he’s ranting has changed big time, and given it, I think, a deeper bang. Though to be honest I strongly suspect I’ve ruined a good thing.

And, a few silly ones for kicks:

1. What's your favorite poetic meter? Free verse is my favorite poetic meter, I’m just not free enough to do it.

2. How do you feel about rhyme? I love rhyme, as long as I don’t hear it.

3. What's your favorite word you've invented? Vachina, from “Made in Vachina.”

4. Shakespeare or Moliere? Good question. I have never met anyone who shares my feelings about Moliere, which is that he is an absolute waste of stage. So, Shakespeare, though I hope to hell I feel different soon.

[Editorial comment: but Moliere is so fabulous!!! How could Mr. Bromley say such a thing? That said, we fully respect his opinions and would love to hear more about his complaints against the great Moliere...]

Friday, June 01, 2007

Why should you see Commedia dell'Artemisia?

“Audiences will dig it,” Stancato assured, “because it's a biting and vicious diatribe about history, hypocrisy, rape, romance, art, and artifice all dressed up as a cute little sex comedy.” The Stolen Chair theatre company has been performing variations of this piece for over three years and presents it again at The Pretentious Festival as a means of collaborating with The Brick and continuously re-orienting the themes to modern day relevance.

Stancato believes “Commedia Dell’Artemisia,” presented on June 17 and 19 [CORRECTION: June 17 & 29], holds its own in the festival because it’s “the only piece that has masks, the only piece in rhyming couplets, the only piece based on an obscure trial transcript, and the only piece to wring humor from the horrible real-life experiences of an Italian female painter.”
Read the full article from the Courier for more...or, you know, you could just go and BUY YOUR TICKETS NOW!

(If you need more convincing, you could always come to the Opening Night Cabaret tonight at 7pm at the Brick, wherein we'll be presenting scene one of the play.)